As a fifth grader growing up in Montgomery County, PA, Matt Stout struggled through his initial trombone lessons. Little did he realize that his love of making music would lead his life down a path that included travel abroad.
Last year’s journey brought him to blowing through his coach horn, proudly sounding a call, co-written by his daughter, to the Queen of England. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stood in front of their private entrance to Windsor Castle and acknowledged Matt’s call with a Royal wave.
Matt continued playing the trombone in the marching and jazz bands through his senior year at Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting, PA.
Growing up, Matt’s neighbors had rodeo-type horses. Now and then he would ride, just for fun, and went to watch them compete in some rodeos at Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, NJ.
Matt’s father, an over the road truck driver, was approached by John Hunt of Eden Valley Farm in Spring City, PA, who was looking for a driver for his horse van. His father was nearing retirement and didn’t want to take on a new responsibly. He told John that his son had his CDL license and he would recommend him for the job.
Not long after Matt started driving John’s horse van, he began helping around the barn and at carriage events, leading horses and cleaning harness. After about a year and a half the trombone was mentioned. John handed Matt a coach horn, along with a book and CD, and told him to give it a try.
“There are a lot of differences between playing a trombone and a coach horn, “Matt said. “But many of the principles are the same.”
Playing in Motion
From his experience marching in the high school band, playing the coach horn standing on the coach wasn’t too difficult as Matt had learned how to hold his instrument and play while in motion, bending his knees to absorb any shocking movements of the coach. Standing on the coach, one would assume balance would be the biggest challenge, but Matt’s most concerned about keeping the mouthpiece from knocking out or chipping his teeth.
“The more I’d practice, the more even my tones sounded while moving,” Matt said. “On pleasure drives, I do have to be on the lookout for low hanging branches and wires. I’ve learned to lean and duck while blowing on the horn.”
Richard O’Donnell, now President of the Devon Horse Show and an accomplished coach horn blower, also gave Matt lots of hints and advice. He used to play on Jack Seabrook’s and several others’ coaches.
Debut at Devon
It took Matt a few years before he was comfortable playing the coach horn in public. And where does he make his debut? Where else but at the prestigious Devon Horse Show and Country Fair in 2007. Since then, he has won both the amateur and open coaching horn awards numerous times. “I primarily play on my dear friends’ John and Penny Hunt’s coach,” Matt explained. “During years that they weren’t at Devon, I have played on John White’s and Harvey and Mary Waller’s coaches as well. I have played on pleasure drives from Massachusetts to Florida as well as in England, and have also competed in Toronto and at Walnut Hill in Pittsford, NY.”
Playing from John White’s coach, Matt has also competed at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Matt also plays when the Hunts take their horses and carriage to coaching pleasure drives, including the Drive at the Big Bend, Newport, Southern Pines, and the Wallers’ Orelton Farm.
As a member of the British Coaching Club, John Hunt has four times been invited to England to drive a borrowed four-in-hand and coach during the Ascot racing festivities. Last spring, they again invited Matt to go along as their coach horn blower, and this is where he got to blow the call “Ode to Eden Farm” before Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
Over the years, Matt has added different calls to his repertoire. There are about 12-14 different road calls, which are basic traffic control signals. He also sounds calls to entertain the passengers. In addition to the road calls, he has learned calls from talking to other horn players from around the world.
Traditionally a coach horn blower would also serve the coachman as a guard, so he was dressed as livery. They wear a red coat with britches, a beige top hat and a carry a pouch with a clock in it.
If riding on a park drag as one of the livery grooms that blows the horn, he would wear a suit and tie, with a bowler or top hat. Choosing the appropriate attire depends on the type of event.
Typically, the coachman stands on the rear section of the coach. When Matt also serves as John’s brakeman, he stands directly behind John.
“This topic generates interesting discussions with coachmen from England,” Matt said. “Technically some of what I do and wear is wrong, but we work with it. When my role is strictly as a horn blower, like at the Devon Horse Show, I stand in the back, which is appropriate. But if I’m acting as brakeman, I stand behind John, which is technically incorrect.”
Matt owns two coach horns, the 48-inch Kantzul C is the one he uses most frequently. He also has a Bflat. He always keeps his eyes open for an antique coach horn.
The coach horn had two basic functions. Primarily, it was for safety. To represent that in the ring, Matt generally plays a number of road calls or traffic control signals, such as Clear the Road, Slacken Pace, Pull Up, Near Side or Far Side. The second function was to entertain the passengers, which also extends to the audience. “The people always react in such a positive way to the coach horn,” Matt said. “This is what I enjoy most about performing.”
Ode to Eden Farm
Rich O’Donnell had suggested to Matt he find a call that represented the Hunts’ Eden Farm. Traditionally, each coach had their own call so when they were going to an event, people would know who was arriving. Eight years ago, Matt and his daughter, Jessica, wrote Ode to Eden Farm.
“One of the many things Rich O’Donnell told me was that ‘the audience will remember the last note you play, so hold it out’,” Matt explained. “I took that to heart and have made it my signature to hold the last note of each tune out long and strong and that usually gets a great reaction from the crowd.”
In February 2016, Matt was inducted into the Road Club where he is one of only 12 Americans. Members meet once a year in England. “I’m very proud that my friend was inducted into this club as he is an exceptional coach horn player and a doer,” said O’Donnell. “Matt is a great guy, and he is now a mentor to young horn players.”
“It is a great honor for me to play at the Devon Horse Show,” Matt continued. “The Coaching division and all of the traditions and elegance that it represents is important for the show, and I have come to see the coach horn as the crowning touch to the wonderful spectacle of this grand sport. It is important to preserve those traditions for future generations to enjoy and appreciate and I feel very lucky to be a part of that.
“What is most important to me when I play at Devon isn’t winning the ribbon, it is pleasing the audience and preserving and exhibiting all of the traditions of Coaching for people to enjoy.”